TOPS refugee camps in crisis


BANGKOK — The Taipei Overseas Peace Service (TOPS), a non-profit philanthropic group, called for donations Sunday to help avoid suspension of its educational assistance to young Myanma refugees in Thailand.

The Taiwanese organization assists children in Mae La, Umpiem Mai and Nu Po, three of the refugee camps in Thailand where some of Myanmar’s 150,000 displaced people reside.

TOPS strives to maintain the refugee children’s right to education, provide them with lunches and subsidize the pay of teachers in the camps, on an annual budget of NT$10 million (US$329,283), said TOPS Director Kevin Lee.

However, a Dutch non-governmental organization that had been contributing some NT$2.6 million annually to the fund has decided to discontinue its sponsorship in 2012, which will leave TOPS in financial straits, he said.

It might lead to the suspension of an educational training program for pre-school refugee children and even the closure of TOPS on the Thailand-Myanmar border, he said.

About 4,200 Myanma children will be affected, he added.

The many severe natural disasters that occurred this year, including the magnitude-8.9 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the magnitude-7.2 temblor in Turkey and floods in Thailand, have drawn donations away from groups like TOPS, Lee said.

TOPS sponsorship amounts to NT$5 a day per child, but with donations drying up and the prices of rice and commodities rising in Thailand, it will be difficult to maintain food supplies on the same budget, he said.

Lee hopes to attract 1,000 contributors, who will make monthly donations of NT$500 for a year. This will help for two years to make up the shortfall left by the withdrawal of the Dutch organization, he said.

Originally founded in 1980 to help Chinese-speaking people that were oppressed by communism on the Indochina peninsula, TOPS started providing humanitarian aid in the area in 1994. In 1997, it began directing its attention to refugee camps on the Thailand-Myanmar border.

The organization has been recognized by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the government of Thailand for its efforts.